Girls Girls Girls (1989) liner notes

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Liner notes


Girls +₤÷ Girls =$& Girls

Elvis Costello

This is a collection of songs recorded between 1976-86. Rather than being placed in chronological order I have arranged the songs in four parts so as to try and tell a number of different stories. I will leave it to the listener to make what they will of each section but this is an opportunity to include a few actual 'hits' and a few 'lost' songs (while others, both good and bad, seem better left in their original context). The deciding factor in making these choices is contained in the obscure arithmetic of the title, although I must caution against taking it too seriously, unless you are considering a career in the legal profession. The majority of the selections feature Pete Thomas, Bruce Thomas and Steve Nieve, who were shrewd enough to recognize a cryptic advertisement in the music press as an invitation to FUNEXCITEMENTANDTRAVEL as "Elvis Costello and the Attractions" and without whom this would be a blank record.

"Watching The Detectives":  Written after thirty-six hours of drinking coffee and trying to listen to the first Clash album in a slumbering block of flats. Recorded a couple of weeks before 'turning professional' at the tiny (but mighty) Pathway Studios in Islington, where My Aim Is True had been made in a total of 24 hours spread over 'sick-days' and 'holidays' from my lovely 'day-job'. Andrew Bodnar and Steve Goulding, from The Rumour played bass and drums, and a little while later Steve Nieve added his low-budget tribute to Bernard Herrmann.

"I Hope You're Happy Now":  "My lady said 'the baby's dead'. You gentlemen all work for me." Recorded live in the big, old studio at Olympic (before it was vandalized), after three different attempts at the song. In the long run I'm happier to live with it being humorous, rather than murderous.

"This Year's Girl":  Clandestine exposure to Aftermath resulted in this alarming piece of fortune telling.

"Lover's Walk":  Tells more of a story than the repetition of lyric might suggest. The band sounds wound up and off-hand at the same time, very typical of our attitude at that point.

"Pump It Up":  Scrawled on the fire-stairs of a Newcastle hotel in an amphetamine and vodka frenzy. The sexanddrugsandrockandroll life beckoned, amply demonstrated both day and night during the infamous "Live Stiffs" package tour. This anti-rock 'n' roll song was my last stand before I gave in to it completely. The painful morning brought a large but simple editing job, allowing us to learn to play the song the next evening, in Lancaster. In this spirit the recording is a "genuine" first take.

"Strict Time":  You know that moment when you want to kiss someone and they just won't be distracted from their fag, well then they're "smoking the everlasting cigarette of chastity." Funny how such ideas seemed crystal clear to me at the time.

"Temptation":  This started out as a holier-than-thou snipe at a VERY FAMOUS ROCK STAR, who I imagined to be breathing his own artificial atmosphere. However by the time we came to record it I'd had a good lungful of the same poison, but had also located that slippery addictive feeling that you get just before giving in to something wicked. It proved to be the saving of the song, together with a few pints of beer and a riff borrowed from Booker T. & the M.G.'s.

"(I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea":  Might have been just a poor relation to "All Of The Day (And All Of The Night)," "I Can't Explain" or even "Clash City Rockers" had it not been for Bruce Thomas' great bass-line. Meanwhile I was trying to fit in this lick from an old Pioneers record, though which one I can't recall. "Ha bloody ha" said the first taxi driver that I asked to take me there after the record came out.

"High Fidelity":  Beginning with a line from a Supremes record, this amoral tale might have over-done the self pity had it not been for the comical drunkenness of the singer. Nice dance routine with this one!

"Lovable":  Written by the authors during a transatlantic telephone call, which they are still hoping to pay for with the royalties. Also features the meanest drum fill ever from the "Rev" Jim Keltner.

"Mystery Dance":  Finding ourselves without a piano-player Mr Lowe ran a drum-stick down the keys, while I banged away wherever my fingers fell.

"Big Tears":  The story line is borrowed from the film Targets, while guest guitarist Mick Jones (of the Clash) answers the musical question "Are you 'punk' or 'new wave'?" Those were the days.

"Uncomplicated":  I asked for water in a Parisian bar. My 'French' was not working any miracles. They gave me Rose wine. That's how the trouble begins.

"Lipstick Vogue":  Here are the bones of it; the rhythms of the Metropolitan Line (on which it was written) colliding with a song by The Byrds called "I See You." I didn't mention this bit to Pete Thomas at the time, so what you hear is all his own work. I stand by every word.

"Man Out Of Time":  Began with just a chorus that I sang to the cold coach window one brilliant moonlit Swedish night. Some time later I found myself with a haunted feeling in the grounds of a country mansion hotel. A scene for a scandal in fiction or in the newspapers (if that isn't the same thing). A picture of decay, corruption and betrayal. At the time it all seemed to suit rather well. On a happier note the intro and ending of the track are, of course edited from another version of the song. My contribution is a tribute to 'free' alto players everywhere.

"Brilliant Mistake":  At best this might be called the title track of the collection.

"New Lace Sleeves":  From the dissolute and sometimes hysterical sessions for Trust, we somehow managed these brief moments of clarity. It is my favourite group performance of a song that at the time of the recording was already seven years old. It's all about the dubious nature of a civilised facade. Very timely.

"Accidents Will Happen":  Near the end of over two years of non-stop FUNEXCITEMENTANDTRAVEL, we have entered the most frantic three months that follow the release of Armed Forces ('a day off, what's that?'). Consequently everything in the cafe opposite the Brighton Top Rank seems very bright; the lights dancing in the greasy coffee, the day-glo yellow eggs, even the congealed bit on the stalks of the 'sauce: tomatoes'. I only paint this disgusting picture, as it is the only time that I recall the Attractions and I being in the same mundane location while a record of ours was being played on the radio. For a moment it was like being in "Expresso Bongo," but, alas, never to be repeated.

"Beyond Belief":  In its original form as "The Land Of Give And Take" I felt that while the playing was fine, the vocal was just a lot of high pitched ranting. The decision to lower the register of the voice by an octave and thereby re-write both title and song, was taken after leaving AIR studios for a bracing stroll along Portland Place. Staff from the nearby B.B.C. would hurry past as they saw me mumbling to myself.

"Black And White World":  A view from a place in the stalls. I think there's a girl somewhere in the picture.

"Green Shirt":  For better or for worse, when things were going very fast the words seemed to fly straight through the moving window and come out of my mouth or my pen. At first glance or so, America seemed like another planet, full of disturbing landmarks. I'd wake up and somebody would tell me "That's the lake where Otis Redding went down"… "Thanks for telling me." Now none of this really appears in the song, it all takes place in some alarming place, that might not really exist, except in your head, when some idiot has left an outboard motor-boat running in the corner of the studio.

"The Loved Ones":  A tale about the morbid practice of refusing to leave a nice clean corpse by contriving the legend of your decline. Perhaps a little over-ambitious for a three minute pop-song. On the other hand it contains one of Steve Nieve's most scene-stealing piano parts.

"New Amsterdam":  Recorded in a fifteen quid-an-hour demo studio (backwhenfifteenpoundwasalotofmoneyIcantellyou). As you might guess I didn't use a metronome but I did employ the owner's exotic equipment; vibes! a fretless bass! a very nasty synth! even God forbid, DRUMS!!! the first in an occasional series: A bewildered lad, alone in New York, except for his rhyming dictionary.

"(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes":  Dreamed up during the kind of hallucination that you can only have between Runcorn and Liverpool Lime Street (traveling time approx. 10mins). Later banged into shape on the ancient Spanish guitar that I had left at my mother's house.

"King Horse":  The armed forces are the only other line of work that encourages such unsuitable people to travel the world. Chaos reigns at 35,000 feet, over the Pacific. In my notebook I'd stumbled on some lyrics about tawdry compromise and desperate fun, mostly the work of a very naive nineteen-year-old. Now I'm looking to hang it all on the best insult to the strutting male that I can find. The cult of the stallion with medallion is in full flower. I look at all the silly schoolboys making the stewardess' life a misery. I look at myself in the toilet mirror…"King Horse."

"Big Sister's Clothes":  features some borrowed tympani and the world's first backwards accordion. The mood of this one man show owes much to being recorded on the eve of total collapse at the end of making Trust.

"Alison":  Much could be undone by saying more, but this track does contain a secret tribute to The Detroit Spinners.

"Man Called Uncle":  An amused look at true love and romance as offered (at a discount) in the nightclubs of America.

"Party Girl":  Then again you might start to believe it all. Somebody is calling "Time." Somebody else clearly isn't listening.

"Shabby Doll":  There was a musical hall bill on the wall of a Lancashire hotel, under one name it read "She's just a shabby doll," no further explanation. Perhaps it referred to a song or a costume, but has nothing more in common with the pathetic soul in this song. He's a man for one thing. Well almost. On the other hand check out Bruce's bass figures on the fadeout.

"Motel Matches":  Upon my first motel night in Los Angeles I was hoaxed into believing that I had been assigned the very room where Sam Cooke had been murdered. I didn't sleep much until I found out in the morning that it had occurred in an entirely different location. Such innocence was short lived, but the infamous Tropicana became the sight of many less serious crimes, indiscretions and comedies.

"Tiny Steps":  The scenario is borrowed from an old Hitchcock television episode about a little girl who insists her doll is an imaginary friend. When her neurotic mother, breaking her promise, intrudes on their private games, she finds her daughter lifeless in the toy's box, while the doll escapes into the rushes at the bottom of the garden. Possibly carrying a ticket to South America.

"Almost Blue":  Admiring Chet Baker's reading of "The thrill is gone," I wanted in my own way to write something similar. Later, when by good fortune he came to record his trumpet solo on "Shipbuilding," I gave him a copy, not so much to suggest the song to him, but to repay a debt he knew nothing about. I don't imagine he rushed home to hear it, he didn't live like that. Still seven years later and I'm in an M.G.M. screening room in New York, watching the last reel of Bruce Weber's movie biography of Chet, Let's Get Lost. A sequence near the end shows him struggling to be heard above a crowd of drunken film-festival free-loaders. The song is "Almost Blue," a poignant surprise revealed to me shortly after Chet's death. Though my version seems tentative by comparison I re-dedicate it to him with belated thanks.

"Riot Act":  From the wiped out sound of this track you'd never guess that these dark thoughts were written on a beautiful beach at dawn.

"Love Field":  Sounds to me as if it has been translated, rather badly, from some other language, perhaps French. It would make a great duet for Isabelle Adjani and Percy Sledge.

"Possession":  another drunken composition (or is it decomposition). On the run from a cleverly isolated Dutch studio, we sought excitement in a small cafe. Sure enough I started to fall "in love" with the waitress, but was hustled back to work before the trouble began. I began my protestations of desire in the taxi, and although other grim thoughts came to mind, the song was 'complete' by the time we reached the studio. Naturally we recorded it right away and in a childishly literal gesture I insisted on playing organ (very badly).

"Poisoned Rose":  There was something reliable about the ten years of in-jokes and eccentricities with the Attractions, so each session for King Of America presented small, but crucial adjustments. Not only meeting and being at ease with new players almost every day, but also translating from 'English' into 'American'. Now while I had no desire to hire 'legends' and 'history' it comes to the studio with some players whether you or they like it or not. On the sessions for "Poisoned Rose" it was very hard to forget that Earl Palmer played the drums on most of the great Little Richard records or that Ray Brown played bass with, among others, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington, not to mention once being married to Ella Fitzgerald. Feeling more than a little unqualified we set up and then called a break for weird sandwiches and A BIG BOTTLE OF GLENLIVET! Suddenly we all got on really well, cutting the track and then going on to play "Eisenhower Blues" until the whiskey was gone.

Next day I paid the price, but ironically my fragile state actually seemed to bring home a clearer understanding of a song like "Indoor Fireworks." It was about all I could manage, assisted by a sympathetic circle of Messers. Scheff, Burton and Froom. They probably suspected that it would be like this all along.

"I Want You":  The sound of this track was always going to be the aural equivalent of a blurred polaroid, so no apologies for the lack of fidelity. None are needed, it's just a pornographic snapshot; lots of broken glass, a squashed box of chocolates and a little blood on the wall.

"Oliver's Army":  Written on the plane back from Belfast, but looking at the song's itinerary that might just have been a coincidence. However history lessons die hard, hence the title. This was going to be exiled to a b-side until illuminated by Mr Nieve's "Dancing Queen" piano part. Thanks Steve.

"Pills And Soap":  Released and then deleted, with satirical intent, on the eve of the '83 General Election. When it appeared in the charts without warning the B.B.C. was perplexed by a possible threat to their cherished 'political balance'. I was questioned about its content by a B.B.C. producer (who was clearly illiterate as a lyric sheet had to be provided for his approval). I replied cryptically, but honestly; It's about the misuse of animals. For his part he threatened me with banishment from the national airwaves if I ever revealed any hidden motive behind the song and then boasted about it. I'm not sure which was supposed to be the bigger sin, but by now the joke's on all of us.

"Sunday's Best":  Written with Ian Dury in mind (in case you couldn't guess). Not so much as a song as an attack on the small-ads page of The News of The World with a big pair of scissors.

"Watch Your Step":  A slow dance number.

"Less Than Zero":  After watching the decrepid Oswald Mosley excusing himself on television I placed a Mr Oswald in this warped and lurid fantasy. No more than he was trying to do with his own past.

"Clubland":  I intended this to be a poisoned version of "On Broadway," which the recording, at least, falls a long way short. I think we improved upon it many times in concert, but the song says its piece and the record has its moments, particularly Steve's "Rhapsody in Blue" bit in the piano solo.

"Tokyo Storm Warning":  Fatigue can only play cruel tricks upon your perceptions, but arriving early one violent morning, among the frenzied commuters, with the storm clouds down beneath the tops of the tallest building, Tokyo DID seem like the setting for a particularly brutal science fiction story (perhaps something by Philip K Dick). So thinking "Why stop there, let's trash the world," I recalled twenty years of nightmares, actual or altered, to present this thug's eye view of the planet.

"Shipbuilding":  Clive Langer gave me a tape of a melody that he had written for Robert Wyatt, so that I might write some words for it while I was away on tour. "Something about 'time'" was his only instruction. In a way it was, for as I began work on it, the lurid reports of the Falklands war, in the ever-sensitive Australian press, brought to mind this barely futuristic story. Robert's version will always be the 'original' and mine the 'cover' but while I know I've sung it better many times since, the mood and the playing are strong. From the severity of Steve's introduction to David Bedford's string harmonics at the end and perhaps most of all Chet Baker's trumpet solo.

"Honey, Are You Straight Or Are You Blind?":  It came to me in a dream.

"Girls Talk":  Given away to Dave Edmunds in a fit of bravado and drunken generosity, which may have been foolish as he went on to have quite a hit with it. However while the bass figure on this version may almost recall the repeated phrase from "A Love Supreme," sadly no final mix exists of our spectacular "Glitterband" arrangement of the same song.

"Poor Napoleon":  Another murder mystery.

"Home Is Anywhere You Hang Your Head":  In return for your generous contribution you shall receive a lucky prayer mat and a dollar bill.

"Turning The Town Red":  Came from Alan Bleasdale's invitation to write the theme song to his television series Scully. The opening sequence features the hero leading out the Liverpool side at Anfield accompanied by my tune; I expect this is the closest I'll ever get to one particular childhood ambition.

"Sleep Of The Just":  Songwriters sometimes take secret revenge on people who piss them off by making them the villain in a song. I finished this song on the bus to Letterkenny after a curt exchange of views with one of "our brave lads" at the border of what we laughingly call "our country." Anyway he ended up in here along with his sister, the topless model.

"Our Little Angel":  A true story which took place in a real lonely heart's club in Liverpool. My colleague and I were the cabaret, serving only as a distraction from eye contact, until the ice was broken ... when we were ignored completely.

"The Long Honeymoon":  Being stuck for words I originally sent this tune to Sammy Cahn, hoping that he might care to add Cahn/Costello to his credits for "The Tender Trap" and "Love and Marriage." I don't think he made much of my musical ramblings, the collaboration was not to be. However I did end up writing my own version of "love and marriage."

"Crimes Of Paris":  Another murder mystery.

"Jack Of All Parades":  A rarity; a love song without the escape clause in the last verse.

"Little Palaces":  Soap opera, without the soft soap.

"Night Rally":  Maybe it's only a paranoid fantasy, but they always say it couldn't happen here.

"American Without Tears":  Most of this is a true story, though I confess I moved the terrible lounge pianist known as "a cocktail murderess" from a bar in Las Vegas to the same town as the lovely GI brides.

"Suit Of Lights":  There are small demands of respect. They are denied in this song, which I wrote for my father, Ross. He has greater professional resolve in the face of the tiny indignities that every working person shares, but is somehow overlooked and even resented when expressed by a performer. It is assumed that the risk of humiliation is the price paid for the privilege. I don't believe that is right and I am not talking about someone like myself, who has already been spoilt by your attention, coming to expect it to the extent that I sat down to write all of this but it's all "Work." the same pig-faced lout or drunken bore who is very large in the dark of the crowd, would be horrified if you were to simply trip him up on his way to work. Here endeth the lesson. By the way, we forgive nothing.

"Clowntime Is Over":  Amen.

"I'll Wear It Proudly":  A love song.

"Stranger In The House":  Recorded during the sessions for My Aim Is True, but held back until 10 Bloody Marys & 10 How's Your Fathers, due to the curiously allergic reaction to country styled songs in those severe days. Later recorded by George Jones, with unfortunate interruptions by the author.

Tags: Girls Girls GirlsPete ThomasBruce ThomasSteve NieveadvertisementWatching The DetectivesThe ClashPathway StudiosMy Aim Is TrueAndrew BodnarSteve GouldingThe RumourSteve NieveI Hope You're Happy NowThis Year's GirlAftermathLovers WalkPump It UpStiff's Greatest Stiffs LiveLancasterStrict TimeTemptationBooker T. & the M.G.'s(I Don't Want To Go To) ChelseaAll Of The Day (And All Of The Night)I Can't ExplainHigh FidelityThe SupremesLovableJim KeltnerMystery DanceNick LoweBig TearsMick JonesUncomplicatedLipstick VogueThe ByrdsMan Out Of TimeBrilliant MistakeNew Lace SleevesTrustAccidents Will HappenArmed ForcesBrighton Top RankBeyond BeliefThe Land Of Give And TakeBlack And White WorldGreen ShirtThe Loved OnesNew Amsterdam(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red ShoesKing HorseBig Sister's ClothesAlisonThe SpinnersMen Called UncleParty GirlShabby DollMotel MatchesSam CookeTiny StepsAlmost BlueChet BakerRiot ActLove FieldIsabelle AdjaniPercy SledgePossessionPoisoned RoseThe AttractionsKing Of AmericaEarl PalmerLittle RichardRay BrownElla FitzgeraldDuke EllingtonEisenhower BluesIndoor FireworksJerry ScheffJames BurtonMitchell FroomI Want YouOliver's ArmyDancing QueenPills And SoapSunday's BestIan DuryWatch Your StepLess Than ZeroOswald MosleyClublandOn BroadwayTokyo Storm WarningShipbuildingClive LangerRobert WyattDavid BedfordHoney, Are You Straight Or Are You Blind?Girls TalkDave EdmundsA Love SupremePoor NapoleonHome Is Anywhere You Hang Your HeadTurning The Town RedAlan BleasdaleScullySleep Of The JustOur Little AngelThe Long HoneymoonSammy CahnLove And MarriageCrimes Of ParisJack Of All ParadesLittle PalacesNight RallyAmerican Without TearsSuit Of LightsRoss MacManusClowntime Is OverI'll Wear It ProudlyStranger In The HouseTen Bloody Marys & Ten How's Your FathersGeorge Jones


Girls Girls Girls liner notes (1989)

Elvis Costello's liner notes for Girls Girls Girls.


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CD sleeve.


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